Single-handled Cup

Tags: jades | National Palace Museum | vessel | Western Hang


Western Han period (206 BC-AD 9)
Height: 12.3 cm, diameter: 4.7 cm, diameter of base: 3.1 cm, weight: 115 g 
This is an attractive, elegant example of a jade single-handled cup with high foot, carved from a piece of lustrous, semi-translucent white jade. The cup itself is long and slender, with a round cavity bored through, fitted with a handle and given a high foot. There are five horizontal bands extending from the rim to the top of the foot, carved in shallow relief with variations on the cloud and four-petal motif. Several points on the rim, the outside of the handle, and the high foot as far as the base of the cavity have been discolored through contact with bronze corrosion, becoming a blue-green hue. This discoloration on the rim is more markedly blue, perhaps due to the fact that the bronze object that it had been in contact with had been cast using azurite. In ancient China, it was believed that beautiful jade was imbued with a life force, and that the material was sensitive to external stimuli. Han dynasty aristocracy particularly valued jade vessels, hoping that the energy of jade would be absorbed by the water or alcohol in the cup, thereby making the drinker immortal. According to the chapter on Emperor Wu-ti in the "Shih chi (Records of the Grand Historian)", in the year 115 BC, Emperor Wu-ti collected dew in a bronze bowl and jade drinking vessel, and drank this together with crushed jade. In recent years, a bronze bowl and jade cup set has been excavated from the tomb of a king of the Nan-yüeh kingdom in the Kwangtung region of southern China, matching the description of the set of vessels used for collecting dew as recorded in the "Shih chi". Compared to the vessel unearthed from the Nan-yueh king's tomb, the Museum’s example here has a handle, in the shape of the letter "a", commonly seen on Han dynasty jade ewers.

Text: Teng Shu-p'ing

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum